The Fifth Discipline

The Fifth Discipline –  a comparison to 3 other books that address improving teamwork and communication

Here’s a compare/contrast of the following books:‘The Fifth Discipline’, ‘Discussing the Undiscussable’, ‘Creating Time’, ‘More Time to Think’. I align and compare the last three books/frameworks across four dimensions taken from ‘The Fifth Discipline’. The four dimensions are –

  • Personal Mastery
  • Team Learning,
  • Mental Models
  • Shared Vision

The Fifth Discipline contains the most comprehensive view of what it takes for an organization to become a learning organization. The other books provide detailed frameworks for improved communication in different and perhaps complementary ways. I am in search of methods that address organizational and team dysfunctions and promote learning. I seek to bring this knowledge to bear in my future work.  The dysfunctions described in the Fifth Discipline are:

  • I Am My Position – and I have little responsibility for overall results
  • The Enemy is Out There – and there is not much I can do about it [cousin to ‘I am my Position’]
  • Proactiveness – it provides an illusion of solving the ‘reactivness’ problem prevalent in orgs.
  • Fixation on Events – these are a distraction from seeing long term patterns of change
  • Parable of the Boiled Frog – Maladaptation to gradually building threats, we don’t see them.
  • Delusion of Learning – We learn best by experience, but never experience the consequences of our decisions (due to time lag effect of those decisions)
  • Myth of Management Team – most managers find ‘collective inquiry’ threatening. When was the last time someone was promoted or rewarded for raising difficult questions about policies rathan than solving urgent problems.

So, while Fifth Discipline attempts to address all of the above problems with its integrated systemic view, I hope to share how the other books I’ve been reading might also help us through those challenges as well. I focus though not on the above ‘problems’, but on the goals of Personal Mastery, Shared Vision, Team Learning, and Mental Models

Personal Mastery – clarifying personal vision, focusing energy, and seeing reality

Fifth Discipline definition. ‘Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, developing patience and of seeing reality objectively…An organization’s commitment to and capacity for learning can be no greater than that of its members’  – This notion if embedded in workers would be the first stepping stone to being rid of the first two dysfunctions ‘I Am My Position’ and ‘The Enemy is Out There’.

Creating Time / Core Protocols: In the Core, there are a set of commitments which are both personal and team oriented in nature. Several of these protocols enhance one’s ability to achieve Personal mastery. Those are: Alignment, Investigate, Checkin and Ask for Help protocols.

Alignment protocol allows you to enhance your personal goal setting by having team members be witness to your goals and acknowledging when they see you achieve them. It promotes the notion that Personal Mastery is a journey of growth, a mindset that carries through work and personal life as well.   The Investigate protocol allows you to have someone else help you dig out your assumptions by asking questions when they hear you make a statement that they find interesting or vague. Merely asking someone to investigate your thinking is an act of increasing Self mastery.   The ‘Ask for Help’ protocol allows you to ask for help when you need it. This seems dumb at first glance, but many work environments inhibit one’s ability to ask for help due to incentive structures, expectations and the general culture that exists. Ask for Help allows that environment to change and therefore a person may grow freely towards ‘Personal Mastery’ without fear of looking bad. The Checkin protocol allows you to share your emotions safely, quickly and humanely, with the team prior to getting started with the day’s work.  By not slicing out what is a real part of your daily life – emotional reactions – at work, you will be better able to cope and grow with team members throughout the day.

More Time To Think: In the ‘Thinking Environment’, the notion of Personal Mastery is achieved in the actions between two or more people who are giving full attention to each other AND through the use of Incisive Questions technique.  The notion of a Thinking Session, to be held at regular intervals to allow you to ‘think aloud’ through a problem with a partner seems also like coaching, but it is a fairly simple framework that can be picked up by anyone and does not need extensive training or certification.  The power of the Incisive Questions is in helping the other person uncover their ‘limiting assumptions’.  Thus it would not be possible for people to NOT grow in their thinking in this environment. One cannot fail to grow in some way in the Thinking Environment, as it allows you the space to think. Simply asking for a Thinking Session with someone is an act of seeking growth.

Discussing the Undiscussable: The tools given in this book are many and very useful. These techniques do require some level of training and facilitation before they can be used but they all support growth in Personal Mastery.  The tools are: Balanced Advocacy and Inquiry, the Inference Ladder, Left Hand Column/Right Hand Column studies, and Action Maps. These tools combine to illuminate how people in stalemate discussions are actually behaving in a similar fashion. By using these techniques and/or having a facilitator guide teams through these techniques, individuals reveal themselves more fully, discover their assumptions and communication patterns, and become open to the possibility that they may gain a level of personal and professional achievement and growth they may never have dreamed of before.

Shared Visiontransforming individual vision into shared vision

Fifth Discipline definition of Shared Visions: ‘Involves the skills of unearthing shared “pictures of the future” that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. In mastering this discipline, leaders learn the counter-productiveness of trying to dictate a vision, no matter how heartfelt’.

Creating Time / Core Protocols The sum of all the Core Commitments presume a sort of tribal allegiance to whatever goal the business/team has set. There is no specific action plan for facilitating a shared vision in this framework. However, the Perfection Game, Decider, and other protocols help to ensure that the team cuts out the dross and moves everyone in the same direction easily. Shared vision holds the power of connecting individuals. I think the Core Protocols does this as an overall package in a very effective and successful way [as reported to me by Vickie Gray – as I have not directly experienced a team using the protocols]. Additionally the shared vision springs from ‘intrinsic aspirations’.  The Core Protocols fosters that personal to team alignment through the use of the Alignment protocol.

More Time To Think: Shared Vision as a term is not mentioned in this book. More Time To Think describes an environment that is created within business, organization or team. The Thinking Environment, Thinking Partnership, and Thinking Sessions are all meant to free individuals to think. Because this fostered environment allows a freedom that is not normally present in most teams, I think that differences will surface which will allow better information flow and faster team building for any circumstance, whether for ‘shared corporate vision’ or other goal or decision. Many stories in the books show that shared vision is a natural outcome of using the Thinking Environment.

Discussing the Undiscussable, Shared Vision, as a term, is not discussed in this book. However, all of the aspects of Chris Argyris’ frameworks allow deep communication that can lead to stronger team work and identity. Specifically, consensus is not even a goal within the Ladder of Inference framework. Rather, an ability for people to learn to dig into another’s mental models fosters over time the ability to align to another’s thinking which might also allow for learning and growth on the path to a Shared Vision.

[As a sidenote, the Temenos retreats facilitated by Siraj Sirajuddin have Shared Vision as exclusive goal and outcome. Siraj has been facilitating this sessions with executive level clients within organizations undergoing change with great success]


Mental Models unearthing internal pictures and understanding how they shape actions

Fifth Discipline definition: ‘Mental models” are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on behavior.’ Mental models about business, IT, software development, work culture may be so embedded that organizations fail to notice them or see their effect on change initiative failures.

Creating Time / Core Protocols: Mental Models are not discussed at all. Rather the Core Protocols is itself an implementable model (an architecture?) for communication. Team members might adhere to this ‘mental model’ of communication and thereby increase their communication effectiveness.

More Time To Think: Mental Models are not discussed at all. Rather the Thinking Environment is itself a mental model or framework , as are the Core Protocols, that, if shared jointly within an organization by people doing shared work, can greatly increase their capacity for generative learning.

Discussing the Undiscussable: This book covers in depth self reflection and surfacing of one’s Mental Models. Mental models hold the ‘steps’ of our reasoning process together in a structured and coherent way and largely influence the ways we interact and respond in groups. A key aspect of success in organizational learning is the ability to see one’s mental models. This books covers this in much more detail that The Fifth Discipline as well.

Team Learning suspending judgments and creating dialogue

Fifth Discipline definition: Team Learning develops the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture beyond the individual perspective. It is a collective discipline, requiring mastery of dialogue. Dialogue is distinguished from discussion. Discussion has the same root as concussion or percussion and suggests a hitting back and forth. The purpose is usually to win. You usually want your view to prevail. In dialogue, comes from the Greek dialogos: Dia meaning through. ‘Logos’  meaning word or meaning.  Meaning passes between people as stream flows between banks. A group accesses a larger “pool of common meaning” which cannot be accessed individually.

Creating Time / Core Protocols Individual Commitment to the Core Protocols is an overall commitment to the team. The strength in the core is the use of some straightforward communication protocols which will help cut the amount of time without decisions, cut the incoherence of the team thought processes, and help people achieve personal and team goals. Core directly supports Team Learning.

More Time To Think: By allowing full and respectful and cultivated listening skills, the team’s learning is amplified.  Team Learning is achieved by the ‘building of courage to to the unexplored edge of ideas by eliminating competition between thinkers’  The concept here is: when you focus on what others are thinking of what you are thinking, you are not thinking well. Team learning will not occur under those circumstances. That is why the 10 aspects of the Thinking Environment absolutely support Team Learning though the term ‘Team Learning’ is not mentioned in the book.

Discussing the Undiscussable:  The concepts and techniques from this book, if understood and applied well, are very useful where there is a LOT of dysfunction at the level of two way communication and between the various organizational structures. The techniques here are as basic as counting someone’s white blood cells to see if they are fighting infection. You will see the pulse of your dysfunction by analyzing communication using Left Hand Column/Right Hand Column and analyzing your own climbing of the Ladder of Inference. Learning happens through understanding the basics of conversational style, defensiveness and surfacing of assumptions. Again, the word ‘Team Learning’ is not mentioned but the book borrows heavily from the thinking of Peter Senge who wrote extensively about team and organizational learning.

Systems Thinking is a fusion of the four other learning disciplines. It is the ability to learn to apply concepts from many mental models–to listen, to explore and to see patterns of the ‘whole’ rather than of ‘individual parts’. The beauty in having all these books to learn from is that I can apply systems thinking to the ‘mental models’ and ‘frameworks’ in all of the books. I can see how I might mix and match techniques for different circumstances and teams. I can expand my thinking and resources by being open to a variety of models.

Recommendation: Read all of these books! Use what works in your context.

Footnote: I realize there are others good books that foster the four elements described here that I have not incorporated. One that has gotten a lot of recent buzz at the Kanban Leadership Retreat is Toyota Kata by Mike Rother. That books explores the Coaching and Improvement Katas and also fosters Personal Mastery, Team Learning and Share Vision and Mental Models.

Explore posts in the same categories: Book Review, Organizational Change

8 Comments on “The Fifth Discipline”

  1. This is a really useful post, Andrea. I like how you’ve really explored all four books and picked out the pieces that are interesting to you.

    With your permission I’ll add some information about the Core Protocols, particularly regarding mental models and Shared Vision. The Core was originally conceived by Jim and Michele McCarthy as a working mental model based on the most successful patterns of great teams, as you say. Some have described it, and even Software For Your Head organizes it, as a Pattern Language. The brilliant thing about it is that on a team using it as it’s meant to be used, the model becomes the operating system of the team, on top of which any other software, model, method or approach can run, usually more effectively than on a team that isn’t using the Core.

    Shared Vision is an interesting phenomenon. The Core evolved from BootCamp, a laboratory for the study of teams in which the Core is “booted” in each participant, and then the networked team members can operate with their shared mental model. The very first goal of BootCamp is to get to a state of Shared Vision, the state in which work can be done independently without management and consistent results will emerge.

    As you say, that’s achieved through Personal Alignment practiced with others, plus several additional activities which have been found to enhance Shared Vision. So, while Creating Time as a kind of handbook for individuals wanting to use the Core in the big wild world doesn’t specifically address Shared Vision, BootCamp does, specifically and deliberately, and treats it as the most important first activity of any team that intends to be great.

    I look forward to more of your insights! I’m really enjoying reading your work.


    Vickie Gray
    Author, Creating Time


    • Andrea Chiou Says:

      Thanks so much for this addition! It certainly helps to know the history AND the real-live venue (Bootcamp) that people can go to in order to ‘boot’ their aspiring teams to the next level. Vickie – can you add anything about how people can arrange a bootcamp session? Is there a central website, or does one just request information from you, Yves Hanoulle, Jim and Michelle McCarthy or others I don’t know of?


  2. In a side note you say:

    >the Temenos retreats facilitated by Siraj Sirajuddin
    >have Shared Vision as exclusive goal and outcome.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Are the retreats all about creating a Shared Vision among members, or as a means to some other end?


    • Andrea Chiou Says:

      Ted –
      I guess I should remove the word ‘exclusive’. In the context of Siraj’s work (workshops, on-site consulting, Temenos off-site retreats) there is much much more than just creating the Shared Vision. It is about personal exploration, learning about change agency and personality archetypes. Ultimately, for companies, it is indeed about creating shared vision from personal visions, doing it together through drawing, sharing, exploring and drawing again. In the context of a group of people who come together at a retreat from various organizations (such as upcoming July retreat), this shared vision step of the retreat is still experienced and is fun, but it is less relevant back at work.

      I can only imagine the power of a group of company change-makers (c-suite?) doing this together. It is best for Siraj to tell you more about that full context. I believe he had a group of educators in June doing just that at the retreat! I wonder what combining boot-camp with Temenos would produce?

      Thanks for your question!


  3. Yes, Andrea!

    There are lots of BootCamps happening all over the world, both public and in-house.

    For public camps check here: and on Yves Hanoulle’s site:

    Paul and I used to arrange public camps but now do only in-house/corporate camps (we have several lined up for this fall all over the world) or we instruct for Yves. We will be instructing Yves’ camps in September and in January in Belgium at an absolutely amazing venue called Koningsteen.

    If people are interested in having us do am in-house/corporate camp, they can email me at vickie at simplerulesandtools dot com. Jim and Michele also hold camps and you can contact them through

    BootCamp is really my very favourite work because a group of people who may or may not be a team when they come together on the first day get the thrill of letting go of all the constraints of their regular work environment and using the learning of hundreds of teams before them, creating something absolutely incredible in such a short time in the context of a work simulation. They realize how they want to be able to work all the time, and they have the tools to do that again and again.

    Again, thank you Andrea for this post. I love connecting with you!


    • Perfection Game, as requested:

      I’d give this a 4 (out of 10).
      I liked: the subject, the books chosen
      For me to score it a 10 it would also need:
      – Context e.g. Reason(s) why you wrote this post
      – Many fewer words
      – Pithy actionable insights
      – Highlighting/explanation of the value of these ideas
      – Inclusion of some other sources e.g. Dan Pink, George Leonard
      – A short summary
      – More structure c.f. e.g. The Pyramid Principle.


      – Bob


  4. The information and the detail were just perfect. I think that your perspective is dee


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